Now that we are adjusting to the concepts of remote learning and virtual gathering spaces, many school and district leaders are looking to the future. What will the learning environment look, sound, and feel like if/when we return in the fall? This is the type of question that we must address now in order to ensure that the “new normal” look forward to is actually better than the old one we were forced to abandon.
One thing is certain: the status quo has failed far too many children. And the demands of virtual classrooms and online learning have only exacerbated the gaps that we have tolerated for far too long. The stark difference between families and households with abundant resources and those without will continue to manifest itself in what kids know and what they are able to do if we don’t take this opportunity to insist on dramatic changes in public education.
As we continue to grapple with the difficulties of getting the right resources to students all over the city over the next few weeks, we must also shift our attention to how we can fundamentally improve the system in the months and years to come. Decision-makers at the local, state, and federal level should be insisting that more money be invested in public education. If nothing else, we have seen over the last couple of months that schools – despite ever decreasing budgets – have long provided basic needs for children and their families. Unfortunately, the next few years will probably involve people needing more from our schools, not less. Funding must be a top priority.
At the same time, we should anticipate children coming back into classrooms with even greater academic needs in the fall. The 3-month “summer slide” will look more like a 6-month “pandemic slide,” for most kids. Many children will return to school from places that were not physically or emotionally safe, and all of them will be dealing with the trauma of living through a global pandemic. Teaching our children in the aftermath of COVID-19 will be no small task. We must ensure that we have well-compensated, well-trained, highly-skilled, effective educators at the helm. Now is precisely the time when we should examine how we recruit, train, and evaluate teachers and do everything we can to ensure the highest quality instruction for all kids.
Finally, all needs will not be the same. As mentioned, the last few months have repeatedly shown us stark differences in the resources that children and families can access. As we begin preparing for a new school year, we must recognize that all needs will not be the same and demand an equitable allocation of resources. Grappling with these issues while still in the midst of a global crisis is no small task, but our children deserve it.